The Semiotic Turn in Karl-Otto Apel's Philosophy

Paolo Teobaldelli




The work that best represents Karl-Otto Apel's itinerary is Transformation der Philosophie (Apel 1973; English translation 1980), a collection of essays flowing from a pragmatic and hermeneutic re-interpretation of Wittgenstein's thinking toward the foundation of a philosophy able to avoid the nonsensicality of foundationlessness. Apel has renewed the necessary philosophical foundations through a broad conceptual confrontation with Peirce's thinking as well as with the general semiotic problematic of a pragmatics of signs in Morris's sense. Its treatment of the subject ultimately crystallizes into a personal and original project, a semiotic transformation of the transcendental philosophy based upon the concept of Kommunikationsgemeinschaft.


1. The Main Goal of Apel's Itinerary

The primary goal is to build a theory of science not limited simply to the logic of science, but also going further, redressing the metaphysical impasse through a widening of the (pure) traditional epistemology in terms of a cognitive anthropology, i.e. a theory of science which, by integrating hermeneutics and a criticism of ideology, would permit investigation into any imaginable kind of knowledge. Such a science is possible, according to Apel, if the whole set of the conditions of possibility of knowledge was investigated not in the domain of a Pure Consciousness in the Cartesian or Kantian senses, but rather in the domain of a (Heideggerian) consciousness which would be situated in-the-world and therefore a consciousness which is linguistically and intersubjectively constituted, since

A pure consciousness of objects, taken by itself, cannot secure any meaning from the world. In order to arrive at a constitution of meaning, consciousness [...] must become engaged concentrically; that is, embodied in the Here and Now. Any constitution of meaning refers back, for example, to a particular perspective which expresses a standpoint. Once again, this means a living engagement on the part of the knowing consciousness. (Apel 1980, 48)

This assumption leads us to consider the linguisticality of knowledge as the (intersubjectively valid) presupposition of knowledge itself. Language cannot therefore be ascribed uniquely to the laws of the kantian A-priori of consciousness but also to an A-priori which has not been taken into account by the philosophy of consciousness and which Apel defines as Leibapriori, i.e. a bodily a priori. In this distinction we find a basic theme which is constantly present in the following development of the semiotic transformation of philosophy worked out by Apel.
As a matter of fact he believes that in the knowing process each of these two types of a priori integrates the other one, yet:

in the actual production of knowledge either the life a priori or the a priori of consciousness takes up the leading position: 'knowledge through reflection' and 'knowledge through engagement' stand as polar opposites. For instance, I cannot simultaneously gain a significant aspect of the world and reflect upon the standpoint that I must necessarily take up in so doing. All experience __ and this applies even to the theoretically guided, experimental experience in the natural sciences __ is primarily knowledge through engagement in life; all theory-formation is primarily knowledge through reflection (49, my emphasis)




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1998.06.16